Ohio’s abortion clinics are wrongly using resources that should be conserved for health care workers fighting the new coronavirus, and these clinics must halt all “non-essential or elective” surgical abortions, the Ohio Attorney General's Office has said in letters to Planned Parenthood and others.

“This is an unprecedented time in the state’s history and everyone must do their part to help stop the spread of this disease,” Ohio Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson said in a March 20 letter to Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio's Cincinnati surgery center.

“If you or your facility do not immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical elective abortions in compliance with the attached order, the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures.”

The Ohio Department of Health’s March 17 order canceled “all non-essential or elective surgeries” that use personal protective equipment by 5 p.m. March 18.

“The order was issued, in part, to preserve (personal protective equipment) for health care providers who are battling the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading in our state and also to preserve critical hospital capacity and resources,” Fulkerson’s letter to the Planned Parenthood affiliate said.

However, Ohio’s Planned Parenthood affiliates suggested they believed the health department order did not apply to their work.

“Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion, and our health centers continue to offer other health care services that our patients depend on. Our doors remain open for this care,” Iris Harvey and Kersha Deibel, the respective presidents and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said in a statement, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Few states have said whether elective surgical abortions may be performed given the need to conserve medical supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic. But those states which have spoken are divided.

In Washington and Massachusetts, where pro-abortion rights support is strong, officials have said that orders halting elective surgeries do not apply to abortions, the Washington Post reports. After the Texas governor ordered a halt to non-essential surgeries on Sunday, the Texas Attorney General said the order would apply to most abortions.

As of Saturday, more than 320 Americans had died from the coronavirus, with Washington state suffering the most fatalities. Confirmed cases now total over 25,000, CNN reports.

In Ohio, Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told CNN that abortion providers are among one of many to receive such a letter.

“This is not an abortion issue,” McCorkle said. “A letter was also sent to a urology group that was allegedly performing elective surgeries.”

While officials said that abortion clinics were not targeted, Ohio Right to Life nonetheless welcomed the move.

“We are thankful to Attorney General Yost for protecting Ohio’s most vulnerable populations and holding abortion clinics accountable to the law,” Ohio Right to Life said March 21.

The pro-life group had previously written Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio to complain about what it said was a violation of the order.

“As countless other clinics across the state comply with this health order and prioritize the lives of their fellow Ohioans, Planned Parenthood continues to put profit and abortion above the safety of our society’s most vulnerable members--children and the elderly,” Ohio Right to Life president Michael Gonidakis said March 21.

If the Ohio Department of Health finds its order was violated by any surgical facility in the state, the attorney general office’s spokeswoman said, “they can refer it to our office to pursue legal action on behalf of the Ohio Department of Health.”

In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide order barring non-essential surgeries applied to abortion clinics.

“We must work together as Texans to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time,” said Paxton. “No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law.”

Failure to comply with the Texas executive order could mean fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

The Ohio letters were sent to facilities only if they were subjects of complaints to the health department, the Washington Post reports. Besides Planned Parenthood Ohio Southwest Region, abortion clinics which received letters included the Women’s Med Center in Dayton and the Preterm facility in Cleveland.

“The Ohio Department of Health has received a complaint that your facility has been performing or continues to perform surgical abortions, which necessarily involve the use of (personal protective equipment),” Fulkerson's letter to the Planned Parenthood affiliate said.

“Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient,” he said, referring to the health department’s criteria.

These criteria for essential procedures include threat to a patient’s life, “threat of permanent dysfunction of an extremity or organ system,” and “risk of rapidly worsening to severe symptoms” unless the surgery is performed.

Fulkerson said he looked forward to hearing confirmation that Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and its facility are complying with the order.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said abortion is “a time-sensitive medical situation that cannot be significantly delayed without profound consequences.” It accused the attorney general and Gonidakis of Ohio Right to Life of “exploiting the Covid-19 crisis to further their agenda to close Ohio’s abortion clinics,” CNN reports.

A March 18 joint statement from eight medical groups including the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, which tends to take pro-abortion rights stands, asserted that abortion is “an essential component of comprehensive health care.”

The groups argued that abortion is “a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible.”

“The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being,” said the joint statement, encouraging collaboration between community- and hospital-based clinicians to “ensure abortion access is not compromised during this time.”